Anahera Rawiri of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei talks to Jeremy Hansen about finding solutions to Auckland’s housing crisis.

New Zealand’s housing crisis is a systemic failure on so many fronts: a rapidly growing population, insane house prices, a drastic shortage of quality homes, a volatile renting market, tight lending restrictions, no capital gains tax and so much more. 

All of it is interdependent and complicated, which is partly why, at a national level, it’s been put in the too-hard basket for too long. But in Auckland, one hapū has been tackling these obstacles – financial, structural, psychological – in innovative ways with remarkable results. It’s been hard, painstaking work at a relatively small scale, but it offers lessons that could be applied across the country – and shows that our housing problems, when tackled one by one, may not be as intractable as we think. 

Up on the papakāinga at Ōrākei, 30 new warm, dry and generous terrace homes are testament to the determination of the members of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei to begin to deal with the housing crisis in their own way. 

“There’s so much pressure on the housing market that people are looking for different ways of doing things,” says Anahera Rawiri, who works for Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei’s development arm. “We knew we had to build some houses, and it was good for us to do that. [But] the only way we could get around some of these barriers was to fund it ourselves.”

Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei’s development team realised, for example, that some of their hapū members earned enough money to service a mortgage, but they weren’t able to save a 20% deposit in a time of galloping house prices. “It’s a huge barrier for everyone, not just Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei,” Rawiri says. So the hāpū developed a different mechanism for assessing buyers’ financial viability, and took on the risk of lower deposits by skirting the banks and financing the build themselves. 

They were able to dodge the obsession with what Rawiri refers to as “the quarter-acre dream” by thinking long-term about the use of the hapū’s land and collectively see that medium-density housing – in this case, the creation of Kāinga Tuatahi, 30 terrace homes designed by Stevens Lawson Architects – was a much more equitable way to use that land than standalone homes. And because the land is owned by the hapū in perpetuity, the homes built on it are necessarily leasehold, not freehold – which actually lowers housing prices, because the buyers in this case already collectively own the land they are living on. 

That same commitment to long-term sustainability led to a commitment to solar energy and the creation of warm, dry homes that barely need heating in winter. It also meant they focused on build quality and the adaptability of the homes – many of which have insulated garage spaces, for example, that can easily be turned into extra bedrooms if needed. 

All of this is eminently sensible, and makes you realise all over again how much the short-term, do-it-up-and-flick-it commoditisation of the property market has made our cities basically unliveable for so many people. If we thought sensibly as a population about land use, for example, the anti-density NIMBYs wouldn’t get a look in. If we thought sensibly about investment patterns, we would have a capital gains tax. And if we thought about the very obvious benefits of warm, dry homes, we wouldn’t have so many damp, freezing places that make their occupants sick. 

Up on the papakāinga at Ōrākei we’re only talking about 30 homes, as well as almost 70 former Housing New Zealand homes in the area that are rented to hapū members. But Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei is already planning its next steps. A hapū housing survey is being conducted to ask whānau what’s important to them. Do they feel ownership is essential, for example, or would a stable renting solution suit them just as well? How can the hapū help with financial literacy so their families feel better equipped to meet their housing goals? 

It isn’t only creating homes for hapū members, but investing in the wider housing market as well. In 2005, the hapū purchased former Navy land on Auckland’s North Shore which is now being developed to create housing that’s sold on the open market. This isn’t about creating housing solutions as much as it is about ensuring the hapū’s longer-term financial future. “The treaty settlement process was to allow us to take control of our future and this is one part of that,” Rawiri says.  

Rawiri is the first to admit that the hapū’s financial strength means the housing solutions it has developed aren’t available to every organisation. But by addressing the problems in the housing market in a determined and holistic way, they’ve been able to deliver the beginnings of longer-term housing solutions that could eventually touch a large proportion of the hapū’s 5,000 members. “You look at the benefits of new development and what it can bring back to your community and all the social outcomes that we’ve seen – people can only grow from that,” Rawiri says. “We’re always open to share this if it means a better Auckland, better Aotearoa and better housing for Māori. We’re down for that.”

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